July 28th, 2023
Release Date: March 24th, 2023
Resident Evil 4
Capcom was faced with an enormous order- remaking one of the most beloved and successful video games of all time. Released back in January of 2005, the original game is considered one of the greatest video games ever made. Many games after its release would emulate its innovative control scheme- a third person perspective where the camera zooms in "over the shoulder" while aiming and shooting. This seems standard to video games today, but in 2005 this was a huge breath of fresh air when most games being released were first person shooters. The story is action packed and featured the return of Leon S. Kennedy, promoted to FBI agent from his rookie cop role in Resident Evil 2. His mission: save the president's daughter that has been kidnapped by the mysterious Los Illuminados cult.
A massive success, Resident Evil 4 is credited with saving the franchise and Capcom as a whole. After the lukewarm sales and reception of the previous few Resident Evil titles such as the Outbreak series, fans finally got a break and received something they wanted. New fans were drawn in with action-focused gameplay and superior controls to the prior games in the series (remember tank controls?) It sold millions of copies and was initially a GameCube exclusive- this later changed in 2005 when the PS2 port was released along with extra features not on the GameCube edition. Potentially holding the record for the most ported game (aside from Doom), it has been released on PC, iOS, Android, Wii, PS3, Xbox 360, PS4 and many other platforms.
This isn't a review of the original game, but I want to provide context on why the task of remaking RE4 was so monumental and high stakes. You're taking a game that is considered nearly flawless by many...and trying to make it better. Is this possible? In short, yes. What Capcom did was create a new gaming experience utilizing the best features of the original game while refreshing some of the stale elements. The core gameplay is nearly identical- it uses the famous "over the shoulder" aiming from its predecessor, and the combat focuses on crowd control and weapon strategy. Leon has to collect pesetas and valuable items to sell to "The Merchant," who in turn can upgrade your weapons and provide you with emergency supplies. The store is largely overhauled with more weapons and upgrades, along with attache case charms to improve the chances of extra ammo or increased selling price of items. Most of the enemies remain the same; you face off against villagers, cult members and soldiers that are infected with Las Plagas. A couple of the bosses have been removed, notably "U3" (who is in the Separate Ways DLC, however) and there is no sign of JJ the gatling gun wielding heavy from the original. Such a disappointing removal...
The greatest improvements were made to the character design, writing, voice acting and overall creative output. The 2005 game holds up well in almost every way, but younger audiences may find it dated or even cringy. Rather than go with a campy action, over the top and absurd plot with fantastical elements, the remake is more subdued and based on horror (as the series started out as). Several changes were made to the plot for cohesion and to build on the existing story and character's backgrounds. For example, Luis now has a backstory of being raised in the village; and his name is now pronounced correctly by Leon. Ashley is not overly-sexualized and dependent on Leon to survive, and is actually quite helpful and pleasant to be around. Ada doesn't wear a flowing red dress and stilettos, instead wearing a much more modest and functional sweater and tights. My biggest disappointment is that Krauser doesn't say his infamous line, "Well if it isn't the bitch in the red dress."
Speaking of, Krauser's story is fleshed out and more integral to the conflict. In the original, Saddler is the prominent villain throughout the game and directly interacts with Leon on many occasions. The remake removes him from most scenes and you only see him a handful of times throughout the game. This makes him more mysterious and serious as a villain, rather than an over-the-villain as in the original. Salazar remains the same except we don't get the giant mechanical statue chase scene (it's referenced toward the end of the castle segment, but you'll have to see for yourself).Ada is almost never seen and almost seems like an afterthought, but still holds an important place in the game's plot.
The game rewards you for being frugal and not wasting ammunition; a new gameplay mechanic called "parrying" allows you to combine melee and knife attacks to deliver massive damage. Your knife now wears down and you have to fix it frequently, which is admittedly annoying and a weapon aspect I did not appreciate. Like the guns, though, you can now upgrade the knife so a knife run is almost completely possible. You can create ammo from various items you find in the game and can also buy supplies from the Merchant for crafting, making it so you can focus on one particular type of ammo and not worry about collecting excessive amounts of others. The shooting gallery has been updated and instead of winning bottle caps, you get tokens to put in a vending machine to win charms for your attaché case. Much more comical but admittedly difficult, it's a big improvement over the original's gallery and I found myself putting tons of time into getting good at it.
There really isn't anything else to say that hasn't been said by a million other critics; the admission price is well worth it, and the changes made in this remake are radical enough to make it a different gaming experience. Just like with the Resident Evil 2 and 3 remakes, Capcom does the series justice and isn't looking to make a quick buck. They work hard to deliver an excellent product and it shows. Even the DLC that includes Separate Ways provides so much gameplay value at $10, it's like playing a whole second game. The Mercenaries bonus game is still just as fun as the original, with extra characters and costumes. It is fun to rack up massive amounts of points and compete on the leaderboards.
I highly recommend checking out Resident Evil 4, whether or not you are a Resident Evil fan.